PITCHING/BLURBS: Goin’ to the conference and we’re/Gonna get harried

I’ve worked up two versions of the written “pitch” that I’m going to print out for my agent appointment at the Dallas RWA conference this weekend. It’s interesting how these two have come into being . . . neither one is the verbal pitch. But anyhow, I thought it might be fun to take a look at both pitches and then at the proposed conversation I’ll be having with the agent, behind an LJ-cut. The suggestion I got from one of the conference organizers is that I might print out the written pitch (whichever one I decide on) on letterhead and staple a business card to it. Then, after we’ve chatted, I can say, “Here’s a summary of the book we’ve been chatting about, in case you’d like to look at it further.” That way, they can toss it or hang on to it while awaiting a partial in the mail.

Pitch Possibility 1 (highlights Marfa and the “what’s different about this book” part)

A long day’s drive West from Dallas is tiny Marfa, Texas. Perched near the Davis Mountains, it is famous for the mysterious phenomenon known as the Marfa Lights. To Dallasite Ariadne French, Marfa is a whole ‘nother planet. But when her fiance is found dead there under suspicious circumstances, she soon learns more than she ever wanted to know about chili cookoffs, geocaching during desert storms, and sneaky ways to murder nerds.

Aaron went out West to build a cabin in the boonies so he and Ari could get away from it all . . . but now he has been taken further away than she’d imagined. Told that she has inherited Aaron’s worldly goods, she travels to Marfa to help settle the estate–and things turn nasty. Aaron had designed a breakthrough algorithm for public key encryption. But all evidence of the code has been lost. Could Aaron’s lying preacher, the exotic religious cult next door, or his mystic-minded Apache lawyer have killed him for his profitable invention?

Against the background of this colorful West Texas desert town, with residents no less eccentric than its famous supernatural features, Ari must discover the why, how, and who of Aaron’s death before she, too, blinks out like the elusive Marfa Lights.

Pitch Possibility 2 (is more traditional, but mostly has plot elements that agents see all the time, nothing new as a hook)

Ariadne French never suspected that the day she waved goodbye to her fiance as he left to set up their cabin in the Montana outback would be the last time she saw him alive. Now he’s dead in tiny Marfa, Texas, under suspicious circumstances, and a natural phenomenon known as the Marfa Ghost Lights is all she has to illuminate the way to solving his murder.

Told that she has inherited Aaron’s worldly goods, she travels to Marfa to help settle the estate–and things get weird. Aaron was developing a breakthrough algorithm for public key encryption. But all evidence of the code has been lost. Also, Aaron’s postmortem shows that he suffered not a heart attack but a possible slow death by spider venom. Could Aaron’s lying preacher, that exotic religious cult, or the mystic-minded Apache lawyer have killed him for his profitable invention? Proof is as elusive as the dancing Marfa Lights.

Against the background of this colorful West Texas desert town, with residents no less eccentric than its famous phenomena, Ari must discover the why, how, and who of Aaron’s death, or join him.

_Murder by the Marfa Lights_ is a humorous but dark murder mystery in the tradition of Susan Wittig Albert and Anne George. May I send you a partial or full manuscript?

Now, let’s play interview. The time comes for the agent pitch interview, and I approach the door. The previous subject comes out, nodding and smiling, and brushes past me. I peer in and see the agent shuffling papers. She calls, “Next, c’mon in!”

*Freeze Frame*

I approach, making small talk. “Keeping that umbrella handy?” (We’ve been having nonstop thunderstorms and spring showers. It’s muggy and warm out there. Yuck!) I shake hands (if it seems possible) and sit down, smiling, with my printouts still in my lap.

(Should I offer a box of chocolates or other bribe? I’ve heard people doing that, but I think not. I’ve also heard that if the con is supplying coffee, you can bring in a fresh cup if you can wangle it, maybe?)

Then I say something like, “Earlier this month, I e-mailed you about this appointment and we talked about a couple of my books that you might like to see. First in line is the traditional mystery, intended as the first in a series, and it’s set in Marfa, here in Texas. Have you ever heard of the Marfa Lights? They’re the classic example of unexplained mystery “ghost lights” out in the desert.” We discuss Marfa and the phenomenon of ghost lights if she’s interested, and perhaps turn the discussion to geocaching, cryptography, or one of the other things that play a part in the book. Mostly I try to emphasize the atmosphere of weirdness that’s in the book because of the eccentric characters, colorful setting in the desert artist’s colony (“the new Santa Fe”), and other things that make my book stand out. After all, hundreds of mysteries must involve a boyfriend who gets zapped and the usual tropes. What makes this book different? I will try to talk as if I have just read the book and want to recommend it to a friend, answering any questions that come up. If she wants to lead the discussion in a certain direction, we’ll go there, but I’ll keep an eye on the time. Ten minutes flies. I would like to spend no more than three to five on this phase.

THEN: “Oh, gosh, look at the time. Can I buy you a coffee? No? You’re on a panel? Well, here’s the thumbnail description of my book. [hand over the paper] I’d love it if you’d like to give a partial the once-over. *I* see it as a fit for St. Martin’s or Dell because they do mystery series.”

*IF* she hasn’t seemed too taken with the idea of Marfa Ghost Lights and chili cookoffs and finding hidden treasure in an unpublished geocache, *AND* we have only spent five minutes on the mystery, then I’ll turn the conversation to my other book (or two others, depending–I’ll play it by ear.)

(I’ll try these other books because I know that this agent recommends Shanna Swendson’s DON’T HEX WITH TEXAS on her own blog and loves those kinds of books. My MIRANDA’S RIGHTS was one of those before they were popular, and LITTLE RITUALS also fits the paranormal chick lit bill.)

“My novels LITTLE RITUALS and MIRANDA’S RIGHTS are lovely character-oriented women’s fiction that also fits the bill of paranormal fiction. If you enjoyed DON’T HEX WITH TEXAS or Candy Havens’ witch novels, and you love chick lit, as I read on your blog, then these are for you.” (Brief discussion of these two, and the handing over of printed one-page pitches on letterhead if possible.) I’m sorry if I seem too confident or enthusiastic, but the bottom line is, I’ve got these really fun stories that begged to be told and I believe they would sell in today’s hot paranormal market. LITTLE RITUALS was a finalist in several contests.”

*small talk to exit the interview, as by now it’s surely nine minutes into things*

I rise to shake hands again or whatever. “Have a great stay in Dallas. Be sure to check out Old Downtown Plano and the Interurban Railroad Museum Park–it’s about a block east of here off of 15th street. The area has been reclaimed for lofts and shops, and the DART train station is the one I come to most often. You can get to the zoo, Mockingbird Station, and points in between on DART, but I warn you the train goes really fast. I have to hang on to the seat in front of me. And don’t get on a car that’s riding backwards! Oh, and if you want to try Tex-Mex, you must go to Aparicio’s. Better than El Fenix or any of the chains. They’re just off of Avenue K north of downtown, and they’re also on the DART tracks, but there’s not a station there, so you’ll have to drive.” Smile. Backing out as the next person knocks on the door. “Appreciate your time. Catch you at the panels!”

Well, we’ll see. I don’t mean to be an Evil Robot here with all this planning of what I’ll say and how things will go, but letting things happen and having events wash over me hasn’t worked that well in the past, so this time I recruited the Evil Empire to tell me how THEY do things like this. I’ll let you know how it works out.

SUMMARY for those who don’t click on cuts: I’m planning to pitch the Marfa Lights mystery to agent Holly Root. I will also have in my back pocket pitches for _Little Rituals_ and _Miranda’s Rights_, because she loves and represents AND READS the Shanna Swendson and Candy Havens chick lit/witch books. There’s an editor coming to the conference, and it’s possible that I’ll get to pitch to her _ad hoc_. This should be interesting. The most important thing I’m going to concentrate on this time is selling myself. I’m going to dress like a success and have a lot of confidence. This is what the sales types I’ve been consulting with think will work best. I suspect they’re right.

And if you are going to the convention, let me know! We can meet in the bar or in some corner between panels to dish on where we met various agents or editors. I’m working the registration table on Friday afternoon just so I can meet-and-greet a lot of people, and I’m hoping I can find something cool to hand out. Maybe I’ll make bookmarks for my nonexistent books . . . or maybe I’ll get some wrapped candy and sugar-free gum . . . or a sticker that says, “Honorary Texan.” I’d just like to meet some people and make a few connections, even if only for the moment. If I get to see some agents and editors, that would be even better (although I think they get escorts and won’t be showing up at the table!)


Author: shalanna

Shalanna: rhymes with "Madonna" and "I wanna," and is not a soundalike with "Hosanna" or "Sha-Na-Na." Aging hippie with long hair, husband, elderly mother, and yappy Pomeranian. I've been writing since I could hold a crayon. I started with fiction, which Mama said was "lying." “Don’t tell stories,” she would admonish, in Southern vernacular. “That's all in your imagination!” When grownups said this, they were not approving. So, shamed, I stopped telling stories for a few years--rather, I stopped letting anyone read them. I'm married to a fellow computer nerd who doesn't really like hearing about writing, but who reads sf/fantasy and understands the creative drive. I'm actually a nonconformist/hippie still wearing bluejeans and drop earrings and the Alice-in-Wonderland hair with headbands and sandals. Favorite flavor is chocolate/orange, favorite color is either Dreamsicle orange (cantaloupe) or bubble-gum pink, favorite musical is either Bye Bye Birdie, Rocky Horror, or The Producers . . . wait, I also love The Music Man. Is this getting way too specific and irrelevant yet? Obvious why I don't sell a ton of flash fiction, isn't it? To define oneself, I always say, it is good to make a list. How about a booklist? Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, Cheaper by the Dozen C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (all the Narnia books) J.R.R.Tolkien,The Hobbit/LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (before dismissing it, actually read it) George Orwell, 1984 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle Donna Tartt, The Secret History Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn James Allen, As A Man Thinketh Mark Winegardner, Elvis Presley Boulevard James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie The KJV and NIV Bible (each translation has its glories)

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